Mr Honey has joined me in my country place and just now, stretched out under an apple tree and sucking on a straw, he gives a passable impression of rural content.
I bring out tea and a digestive and he nods at the scenery and asks of me, as he sucks on the biscuit, ‘all this ruckus’ – I think he is gesturing at the sheds and washing-lines of my neighbours – ‘your idea is that we wouldn’t see it as attractive if it wasn’t for magnificent master of making, Capability Brown?’ I begin to frame a reply, but he is not a man to stay the trajectory of his thought, ‘well, it doesn’t do much for me, so I suppose I shall have to say that he has failed, his influence has worn off.’
I can always tell when Mr H feels that he has made a killing point, he’s on the move in a trice, lest anyone should come back at him, and he slaps his folded newspaper against his leg and gives a snorting laugh, something like a steeple-chaser at the starting gate.
But let us consider his point, and beginning with the situation during the 50 years or so after the death of the great Capability Brown, during which his design for Wimpole was largely completed; during which William Ireland was taken on at Southill by the Whitbreads (not even by the Torringtons who had employed him there); during which the 5th Duke continued with the plan his father had commissioned from Brown twenty years earlier at Belvoir Castle; Dunsmere and Milford lakes were excavated at Highclere; Lapidge completed, or tried to complete, a number of Brown’s unfinished projects … My point is, if we are thinking about influence, that his work commanded enormous respect even at the time when it was most under fire from the picturesque school. Whether the work at Highclere should technically be regarded as Brown’s if it was carried out over ten years after he had died, that is a matter on which one might spill much blood. The answer seems to depend greatly on whether you are an admirer or critic. Admirers tend to want to increase the scale of Brown’s output, critics don’t.